Humans, pure and unadulterated, are probably extinct. All you find now is a copy of a copy of a copy. In fact, it is a lot easier to find a map of a human than to find their traces. When I started my search, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had already put them on the list of critically endangered species. Their work changed dramatically at that time, in part inspiring my project:
“World Wildlife Fund’s work has evolved from saving species and landscapes and the larger global threats and forces that impacted them to the singular purpose of preserving Homo Naturales. Recognizing that the single most important post-Singularity problem facing our planet is the increasing eradication of the natural habitats of Homo Naturales, we have redefined our work”.
The Professor was looking intently at what seemed to be a picture that evoked a gestalt imagery of sorts. You know, you look at something; it seems that it is like something, but then it is something else too. Tricky! The image is two things at the same time. You would not find an inch on the walls of his office that was not covered by one of these pictures and so was the Professor’s table! I do not particularly like these images. They are somewhat confusing. You know that they represent two things at the same time, but you still do not know it. There ‘liminality’, yeah that is the word used for this particular quality, is difficult to get your head around. I entered the Professor’s office and was immediately shown a picture that simultaneously was of a rabbit and a duck.
“How fascinating! Did you know Homo Naturales specimens could just see this and more often than not, know that it has two simultaneous meanings, a rabbit, and a duck?”
I reluctantly replied, “No!”
The Professor kept staring at me for a while or maybe waited for me to say something. However, I did not say anything. “You are interested in Homo Naturales and yet, you don’t know seem to know much about them.”
That is a bad start to an interview. It is also an opportunity to play dumb. “Yes, I am still in the process of learning. I am interested in how we know that there exists a species of humans that we call Homo Naturales. I have not seen any of them, except in pictures and in pictures they look like us. So, what is the difference?”
The Professor smiled and then in a mode that we all recognize as teaching, said, “Homo Naturales is the name we gave them. Humans born in their own ‘natural order of things’. You see, post-Singularity, machines can think like humans and I say this with the disclaimer that we still do not exactly know what we mean by that. So, if machines can think like humans then it is obvious that there remains nothing special about humans considering that we can 3D print every organ including a human brain with an encoding of general intelligence parameters. We can build a human simply from two DNA strands. So, the question is what is special about them… these natural-born humans?”
“What is… special about them?” I hesitated as I repeated the question.
“Exactly! You know this whole controversy over whether farm raised salmon is the same as wild salmon or not? It keeps propping up every now and then…”
“It is more or less the same issue. Farm raised humans are different from wild humans.”
“How different are they?”
“The most straightforward answer that I can give you is… we don’t know yet.”
I have heard this a hundred time by now… “We don’t know!”… To be honest, it is the fucked up part of my work, but I have found the simplest way out of this issue. “How are you approaching this problem?”
“I think the only way to approach the problem is to revert the question that these natural-born humans were trying to solve before they achieved Singularity: What is the nature of human intelligence?”
“So, it’s got something to do with human brain?”
“Yes! This extremely intelligent specimen of Homo Naturales gave the simplest answer to our question. Have you ever read Computing Machinery and Intelligence by Alan Turing?”
“Well let me read a passage from his paper for you.” The Professor scanned the office and found an old dusty looking cabinet. Skeuomorphism at its very best!
“Turing was interested in respecifying a certain construction of preexisting imitation game with the aim of differentiating a man [that is a male Homo Naturalis] from a woman [a female Homo Naturalis]. He wrote:
An imitation game is played with three people, a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator (C) who may be of either sex. The interrogator stays in a room apart from the other two. The object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman. He knows them by labels X and Y, and at the end of the game he says either ‘X is A and Y is B’ or ‘X is B and Y is A’. The interrogator is allowed to put questions to A and B thus:
C: Will X please tell me the length of his or her hair?
Now suppose X is actually A, then A must answer. It is A’s object in the game to try and cause C to make the wrong identification. His answer might therefore be
‘My hair is shingled, and the longest strands, are about nine inches long.’
In order that tones of voice may not help the interrogator the answers should be written, or better still, typewritten. The ideal arrangement is to have a teleprinter communicating between the two rooms. Alternatively the question and answers can be repeated by an intermediary. The object of the game for the third player (B) is to help the interrogator. The best strategy for her is probably to give truthful answers. She can add such things as ‘I am the woman, don’t listen to him!’ to her answers, but it will avail nothing as the man can make similar remarks.
We now ask the question, ‘What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?’ Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman?
I simply respecified this experiment again. Imagine that you have one of us A and a specimen of Homo Naturalis B and you could create C, a judge, or an interrogator, whatever you want to call it, who can differentiate between the two and tell you which one is the specimen.”
“Yes! The Experiment with the Paraprosdokian machine.”
“You know about this…”
“Of course, that is the reason why I have been trying to get in touch with you.”
“So, you do know something about Homo Naturales after all. Good. Very Good!”
I was relieved. If the interview gets too pedantic and the best way forward is to show your cards. “What is the Paraprosdokian machine?”
“I created the Paraprosdokian machine to correct the flaws of this legacy system called ‘Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart’, also known as CAPTCHA. You see giving us assorted alphabets does not actually do anything, because we can read. However, the Paraprosdokian machine tests the less understood ability of Homo Naturales to understand images, sentences, and words that basically have simultaneous multiple meanings which may often be contradictory!”
“You mean the confusing stuff that we don’t talk about anymore.”
“Yes, so for example, if I were to say, ‘Time flies like an arrow’. How would you understand this sentence?”
“Well there are multiple possibilities here. If we take ‘time’ as a verb, then it may mean ‘you should time flies as you would time an arrow’. If we take ‘time’ as an adjective and ‘like’ as a verb, then it would mean ‘all of a type of flying insect called time-flies collectively enjoy a single arrow’. But, ruling out the weirder ways of parsing this sentence, it may simply mean that time is linear and goes in a single direction. Though, I must add that there is some disagreement over directionality of time and it’s been a topic…”
“Yes! Yes! You get it. Now, if I were to say, ‘Time flies like an arrow, fruits flies like a banana.’ What would you say to that?”
“Oh! Doesn’t it have something to do with Oscar Wilde? It’s a semantic zeugma or syllepsis and I think it is a perfect example of communication that must be avoided.”
“Exactly, so my assumption is that since Homo Naturales used this form of communication and we try to avoid it, it follows that this could be trait that could be used to differentiate between us and them.”
“So, does it work?”
“It does and it doesn’t!”
“How can it work and not work at the same time?”
“You see, I know how the machine works, how it creates such statements and how it poses questions or at least the emergence involved in the creation of such statements and questions, but I don’t know how the machine exactly does it?”
The Professor looked at me in silence for a while. Waiting for me to say something and all I could come up with was: “Go on.”
“You see interrogation and judgment are two different things. You can certainly create questions that have simultaneous multiple solutions but their assessment requires the same characteristic that is being tested. It is the pervasive intelligence machine problem. You know how you cannot create a perpetual motion machine, right? It is the same thing but in the context of intelligence.”
“So, you cannot create a pervasive intelligence machine?”
“Yes! That is why Homo Naturales are so fascinating. Their brains can seemingly do this impossible thing. Or rather, we haven’t figured out that laws of intelligence that allows us to build pervasive intelligence.”
“So what happened when the tests were conducted?”
“Something more fascinating happened. The test subjects, during the duration of the test, are simultaneously machine as well as a specimen of Homo Naturales. It is like Schrödinger’s cat, both dead and alive at the same time. That is the closest that we have ever gotten to a live specimen of Homo Naturales up until now.”
“So, Homo Naturales exist only in test conditions of this imitation game?”
“I believe so. The interrogation usually went amazingly well, but the judgment seems to raise all kinds issues!”
“What kind of issues?”
“Well, it seems that the Paraprosdokian machine is a bit, how do you call it, racist.”
“Yeah! It never chose any ‘white’ people as specimens of Homo Naturales.”
“What does skin color have to do with intelligence?”
“I don’t know! But, I lost funding. The tests were abandoned. You cannot have racist judges after all! Though I think there is a way by which these imitation games might work.”
“And what is that?”
“If a specimen of Homo Naturales was the Paraprosdokian machine in the game.”
“So to find a specimen of Homo Naturales we need a specimen of Homo Naturales.”
“Exactly! That’s the point of imitation in an imitation game anyway.”
“And you think that this specimen wouldn’t be racist?”
The Professor looked at me for a while and did not answer my question, but I came to realize that intelligence was not the answer. It must be something else, something that we have not even thought of yet. When Homo Naturales, in all of their history could not figure out a definitive reason as to what made them human, who are we? Or maybe we have just begun and this search will lead us somewhere. Somewhere new, somewhere unexpected, somewhere from where there is no place else to go.
[Contribution for Issue 0: 0002 ODNOM]